Iowa (6-0) vs. Texas-El Paso (4-2)
Date: November 29, 2013
Time: 6:00 p.m. CT
Location: Atlantis Resort, Bahamas
Television: NBC Sports Network
Line: Iowa -9.5
As Iowa completed a fairly miraculous comeback win Thursday night, Tennessee sat in the hallway waiting for its game against Texas-El Paso. With about four minutes left in regulation, NBCSN cameras caught the Volunteers getting psyched for their upcoming game, clearly ready to make their debut on the Battle 4 Atlantis stage.
Ten minutes later, as Iowa-Xavier dragged into overtime, the cameras returned to the tunnel to find Tennessee players lying on the floor watching a small television. Vegas casinos might as well have cashed all UTEP tickets at that moment. The Miners jumped to an eight-point lead at the half and merely played Tennessee even in the second stanza. And so, where Iowa was supposed to get a second game with an SEC program and potential semi-powerhouse, the Hawkeyes instead get a team ranked 78th in the current KenPom rankings and coached by a former Iowa State head man which has already lost to New Mexico State twice this year.
Here's what UTEP does poorly: It puts opponents on the line. A lot. Like, worst-in-the-country lot. Miners opponents are averaging more than four free throw attempts for every five field goal attempts; the national average is half of that. They don't shoot that well (44.5 percent on two-point attempts; 34.4 percent on three-point shots). They don't defend that well (opponents are posting a 53 percent effective field goal percentage against them). They turn it over on one of every five possessions and rebound at fairly pedestrian levels. Did I mention that UTEP has lost twice to New Mexico State already?
New Mexico State is a pretty decent team, to be fair. The Aggies are ranked in the Kenpom top 70 (66th, per this morning), and are the best team in the nation at getting to the free throw line. In two wins over the Miners, NMSU took a staggering 90 free throws. That is one more free throw attempt than the Aggies had field goal attempts. That is insane. With Iowa ranked among the nation's best at getting to the line, this looks particularly ominous for UTEP.
If there is one thing that UTEP does quite well, ironically, it is getting to the free throw line themselves. UTEP draws free throws at a rate of two per every three field goals, fourth-highest nationally. But even this does not look particularly good for the Miners. Iowa is third in the nation at free throw attempts allowed. The Hawkeyes make you shoot contested shots, and they don't bail you out with a foul. This, again, does not bode well for the Miners.
Junior shooting guard McKenzie Moore (6'6, 200) has been UTEP's best scorer so far. Moore is averaging 14.0 ppg, and has not scored less than 12 in any game (aside from the second game with NMSU, which he sat out). Moore scored 19 on Tennessee Thursday night, and added four rebounds for good measure. He's not much of a threat from the outside, but lights-out at the free throw line (19/21 so far this year).
The Miners are one of the nation's tallest teams. Forward Cedrick Lang (6'10, 255) adds 11.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per contest, while fellow forwards Julian Washburn and Vince Hunter (each 6'8) also average more than ten points per game. UTEP can go deep into the bench if necessary: Ten different Miners average more than 10 minutes per game, with exquisitely-named center Hooper Vint contributing nine minutes.
And, yes, there's former Iowa State coach Tim Floyd on the opposite sideline. Floyd might be a man with a past, but he's a solid coach who should be able to come up with something overnight to counteract Iowa. While it is true that UTEP's length could neutralize some of Iowa's most effective weapons, that length has not been ushered particularly well so far. The sheer number of fouls being committed by Floyd's team should largely cancel out any advantage held by the Miners, whether due to height or depth.
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